2012: The Enlightened Albertan (Apr 2007)

In 2007, Albertans likely will go to the polls. We asked three writers to imagine the province five years from now, when the new government will have served a full term. Each writer was assigned a different party.

This month, Curtis Gillespie depicts Alberta after five years of NDP rule.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Welcome to the second annual conference of “The Enlightened Albertan.” The 2011 edition, our inaugural gathering, was a great success, with our guest speaker (and karaoke superstar—who knew?!) Hugo Chávez. We’re looking forward to an equally invigorating time this year. Before getting started, I’d first like to thank our major corporate sponsor, the Dinning Group, for their ongoing commitment to finding opportunities for “ordinary” citizens to play real roles in our governance. (You didn’t hear me say “Ed Stelmach”!) I’d also like to thank the University of Inglewood Golf Course/Rod Love Centre for the Promotion of Transparency in Politics for providing the “green” gift bags, as well as the organic wine and trans-fat-free nibblies on our tables.

Without further ado, please join me in welcoming our keynote speaker for this evening, the esteemed Toronto Star and London Guardian columnist David Frum—now a Calgary resident, of course—as he delivers his address, entitled—rather provocatively, I must say—“Talk to the Left Hand, ’Cuz You Ain’t Right.”

(Rabid applause; Frum takes the podium.)

Thank you, thank you very much.

Good evening, ladies, gentlemen, Mr. Premier, honourable ministers, various mayors, youth wings of the major parties, new Albertans, all concerned citizens, all unconcerned citizens, and Rod Love… just kidding, Rod, you know I love you. Let’s get a golf game in, one of these days.

But seriously, ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to be here for this second annual sharing of ideas and enthusiasms. What a treat it is to be part of such a movement, such a groundswell of change, as we have seen in Alberta in the past five years. What a time it’s been!

Who could have predicted that the provincial election of 2007 would lead to a Progressive Conservative minority government? That Premier Ed Stelmach would then have to resign in 2008 under a cloud of scandal (the now infamous Perogy-gate)? That Ted Morton would succeed him and call a snap election? That Ezra Levant, esteemed journalist, celebrat-ed author and erstwhile politician, would announce himself Born Again as the man to marry the voters of the urban/rural left, which became known as Urbal Territory, or simply Urbal T (in a brilliant semantic nod to specialty tea snobs across all party lines)? And that he would succeed Brian Mason, call an election, and lead the NDs to the kind of majority the PCs used to enjoy? 514 out of 660 seats. Unimaginable. Almost as unimaginable as Jeb Bush getting elected President in 2008! But, hey, that happened, too. It’s a crazy old world.

But back to the task at hand. My topic for this evening is “Talk to the Left Hand, ’Cuz You Ain’t Right.” What do I mean by that? Well, we live in a province that has typically voted along highly concentrated lines. In other words, you’re all sheep. Alberta has historically been a province of followers who dimwittedly voted for the same party year after year, decade after decade. First it was Social Credit, then it was the PC party, each of which ruled for over a generation, and now we have the NDs. It’s not going out on much of a limb to say that you lefties out there should make yourselves comfortable and put on your slippers and robes, because now that you’re in, now that you have a majority, now that you are seen by Albertans as being “the government,” Albertan voters will do as they have always done and simply let you hang around unchecked for at least another 30 years or so. Let the party begin, you crazy NDs! You deserve it!

Well, you don’t, really. No political party deserves to be left in power to rot and fester for well over three decades of uninterrupted and unchallenged supremacy, but politics ain’t about what you deserve, it’s about what you can make happen. And full credit to the NDs. They did the work necessary to reinvent themselves. After all, they were once known—don’t laugh—as the “conscience” of the people in Alberta politics, our moral compass.

Puh-leeze.

Conscience is one thing, but you’re in this game for power or you shouldn’t be in it all, and four years into their majority, with Premier Levant about to call a provincial election for the fall of 2012, the NDs understand this as well as anyone. What’s the point of blathering about your conscience in the middle of a clear-cut forest if there aren’t any voters to hear you moralize? No point, that’s what! It only took the NDs about 30 years to figure that out, but look at them now. They’ve grown up. Sure, they’ve managed to cut waiting lists in hospitals and they’ve dropped classroom sizes. Okay, their plan to create greater transparency in government has worked and the province isn’t crawling with lobbyists and communications cockroaches anymore. But look what it got them. It got them into the big leagues, but it got them a hatful of heartache! Alberta is still running a surplus, okay, but last year the NDs did cancel the $9,000 prosperity cheque every Albertan was receiving. That didn’t go over too well in my house, I can tell you. So much for that all-in-one 70-inch La-Z-Boy plasma TV/recliner.

Still, you’ve got to grow up sometime. After all, you’re never really a government until you’ve had your first big corruption scandal, and the NDs finally got theirs, didn’t they, in 2010, when the resurgent Minister of Governmental Accountability Jan Reimer was caught in a sting by her own department accepting a free cookie sample at her local Starbucks (as did every other patron, but ministers are held to a higher standard). It’s a new ball game, baby. The days of politicians filling their pockets—or faces—are over. You live by the sword, you die by the sword. The NDs, to their credit, now see that power is not a right… it’s a party! Just kidding. It’s a privilege. And since you ditched the wacko commie platform and merely regulate the biz boys—instead of scaring the bejesus out of them—you’re golden. You should have listened to me years ago.

But let’s spare a thought for the poor old PC party, now so moribund, so bereft of any real influence or power (though they’re still quite loud, aren’t they). In fact, they are now so bereft of any actual party members, I have taken to calling them the Axis of Weevils.

Heh heh. I’m glad you got that one. By the way, I only came up with the axis part. The “evil” was Cheney’s idea… so to speak.

But the PC party was, in so many ways, a victim of its own success. It was inevitable that it would die out from a simple absence of ideas, in the same way a lovely green lawn will turn brown without government approved fertilizers and pesticides to flow through it and leach into the water table. The PC party was so dominant it forgot the pesticides, and assumed it would always stay lush (which wasn’t going to happen post-Ralph, heh heh). And so the PC party simply forgot how to govern, forgot how to think, forgot that even sheep need fresh grass every now and then. As a result, the sheep turned on the shepherd, and poor old Stelmach and Morton found death by a thousand nibbles.

But I digress. Let me simply close up by asking one question—What is Alberta now? In 2012, what is this province, where fresh air and clean water and good jobs and the Hummer have always been considered a birthright? It only took a hundred-odd years, but now that a left-leaning government has had time to govern properly, what has changed? Did the sky fall in, as Ted Morton predicted in the election of 2008? Did the oil industry collapse, as Lyle Oberg predicted? Did man and dinosaur walk hand in hand to the end of all earthly civilization, as Stockwell Day foretold? Did every doctor in the province leave for Scottsdale, as every doctor threatened to do?

No. None of those things happened. The oil industry—surprise, surprise—stuck around and continues to make gigantic profits, despite the fact that the NDs made them pay taxes and forced them to prioritize environmental concerns. Some of them are even doing better than they were before. Doctors stayed too, because they actually began to realize that there was more to being “rich” than what you found in your pay packet. The sky, that beautiful blue sky, is still there, and it’s even easier to see now that the Ministry of the Environment has become the second most powerful portfolio behind the Ministry of Moral Wealth.

So, why didn’t all this happen years ago? Why weren’t we rich AND smart, instead of just rich? I don’t know… perhaps it was just a series of baaaaad decisions.

Heh heh. Catch that? Too subtle, maybe.

Let me end, ladies and gentlemen, by reminding you of my speech’s title, because here in Alberta we now have to talk to the left hand, because we ain’t right. Those days are gone. The right hand once held the sceptre of power; the left now has it firmly in its grasp. The right hand, what does it hold today? A faded photo album, that’s all. Full of past deeds, stocked with memories. Some good. Some bad. The right hand lives in the past.

But then, when you really think about it, it always has.

Thank you. Enjoy the rest of your conference.


Curtis Gillespie is the author of three books. His fourth, a novel entitled Crown Shyness, will be published in the fall of 2007.

This article was originally published in April 2007.

You can find other articles that have resurfaced for the election here.


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